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GCN : March 2013
GCN MARCH 2013 • GCN.COM 29 tiple local exchange carriers and county jurisdictions was becoming unwieldy. "The old infrastructure had a lot of moving parts and a lot of parties in- volved," explained Lynn Questell, execu- tive director of the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board. "It has become more difficult when there is an outage to find out what the problem is," she said. The new system will be monitored and managed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The infrastructure is being put in place now and an initial text-to-911 pilot with AT&T and selected PSAPs is expected to begin sometime this year, Questell said. Texting is only one element of the FCC's Next Generation 911 system that eventually will also accommodate im- ages, video and other types of data. But texting is the most urgent element be- cause many customers already assume that it is available and 911 texting is heavily relied upon by those with hear- ing or speech disabilities. In December, the nation's four largest wireless carriers, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, signed an agreement with the Association of Public-Safety Com- munications Officials and the National Emergency Number Association, to ac- celerate deployment of text-to-911 capa- bilities. The carriers, which account for about 90 percent of the nation's wireless consumers, are to have the capability available nationwide by May 15, 2014. However, because the PSAPs' ability to receive such messages will not be uni- versal, the carriers also will provide au- tomatic bounce-back error messages for 911 texts that do not go through, advis- ing the sender to make a voice call to 911 instead. This will be enabled nationwide by June 30 of this year. Less than a week after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski praised the agree- ment the commission released its notice of proposed rulemaking that would ex- pand the requirements to all carriers and text service providers. The notice seeks feedback on the feasibility of carriers meeting the deadlines. Carriers will be building on the expe- rience in delivering text-to-911 gained from programs such as those in Tennes- see and Vermont. VERMONT TEXTS TO ONE LOCATION "We wanted to get some real-world experi- ence with SMS-text-to-911," said Vermont's Tucker said. The programs benefited from the state's relatively small size and popula- tion. "The 911 system in Vermont is state- wide," Tucker said. "We take 911 voice calls in eight different locations around the state." Unlike most other states, where each call is routed to the appropriate jurisdic- tion, emergency calls in Vermont are not location-dependent. "Every call could be answered anywhere in the state," he said. In most states, any call or text would be routed to the PSAP based on the location of its origin, but any 911 text originating in Vermont is routed to the answering point in Williston, a town near Burlington in the western part of the state. The actual routing is done through the emergency communi- cations company Intrado, based in Colo- rado, which operates the 911 infrastructure for the program. The participating carriers deliver the 911 text to Intrado, along with location information. The Vermont opera- tor taking the message can then relay need- ed information to local dispatchers. "It had a very limited impact on the PSAP," said Tucker. Some additional soft- ware was required at the answering site to bring the SMS text onto the same monitors that are used for TDD (Telecommunica- tions Device for the Deaf) messages, also known as TTY (teletypewriter). The situation in Tennessee is a little dif- ferent, with about 140 answering points that will have to upgrade to accept text messages. But the move to NG911 has been in the works for several years, and the state has been putting aside money since 2005 for the upgrades. It now has about $25 million available for the purchase of PSAP controllers compatible with the NENA i3 specifications for NG911 communications. The state's Emergency Communications Board began planning for NG911 in 2004 and did a feasibility study in 2005, "look- ing at all of the options," Questell said. The best option turned out to be the fiber IP infrastructure being built by the state to link libraries, health providers and police departments using the federal National Crime Information Center network. The emergency communications board drew up a set of requirements for reliability and security needed to support a 911 system and the network contract was modified to incorporate those requirements. AT&T built out the network, and TCS is providing the 911 components and also will manage the new 911 system under a sepa- rate contract. The principal 911 components consist of: • A Legacy Network Gateway (LNG) This emergency call center in Tyler, Texas, is just one of many across the nation facing the technology and logistical challenges of receiving 911 text messages by 2014. AP IMAGES